Farmers' Market Finds

Last June, I couldn't help but include an article about all the wonderful foods you can find at your local farmers' market. This year, I'm finding myself ready to go down that road again.

Every year, I start to get anxious near the end of April. That's because the Dane County Farmers' Market always begins the last Saturday of April. You can bet I'll be there bright and early, armed with a basket, a canvas bag and -- if I'm ready to get seedlings for my garden -- a large box or little red wagon. It becomes a special ritual for me. I get up early, put on comfy tennis shoes or sandals, grab my favorite containers and make sure I have plenty of bills in my wallet. The last thing I want is to find the perfect basket of blooming annuals and not have the cash to get it.

By the time June rolls around, our farmers' market is in full swing. In addition to the seedlings, fresh bakery items and other culinary goodies, the amount and quality of veggies and fruits on the Capitol Square increases. Where a month ago there were a few tomatoes among the vendors, now there are so many varieties that it's almost mind-boggling. Cucumbers, green beans and strawberries join the salad greens, onions and mushrooms that have been out since April. Suddenly, it seems like that basket and canvas bag are shrinking!

Buying from your local farmers' market insures that you are getting fresh, high quality produce. It's also nice to support your local farmers, bakeries, and businesses. It's not unusual to find a vendor at the market that also sells his or her wares at other locations during non-market days. Walking through a farmers' market certainly can be quite a learning experience.

To get the most out of your trip, give yourself enough time to wander through the market once before making your purchases -- especially if you are unfamiliar with the current offerings. Since my local farmers' market is local in a large circle around the Wisconsin State Capitol, it's easy for me to complete one circle during which I compare quality and prices and then follow up with a second trip during which I make my purchases. Of course, I almost always start my trip with a cup of fresh coffee and a piping hot muffin that I simply couldn't resist!

I'm including five recipes that have originated from my trips to the Dane County Farmers' Market thus far this year. You can feel free to try your hand at substituting some of the items available at markets near you. If you find something fantastic, please send your findings on to me. I love trying new variations on the recipes I've used. In the meantime, enjoy these fresh foods on parade:

For more farmers' market recipes, check out last year's Farmers' Market Finds.

Chilled Nasturtium Soup

Nasturtiums are easy-care flowering plants that have edible leaves and flowers. The leaves are similar to watercress and have a peppery taste. This soup can be served hot or chilled. However, on a hot summer day, it's best cold with a few blossoms added for garnish. Make sure that you only use pesticide-free leaves and blossoms for this soup!
  • 2 T. margarine
  • 1/2 large Vidalia onion, finely chopped
  • 2 medium potatoes, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 bunch nasturtium leaves -- with any tough stems removed (about 20-30, depending on size)
  • 4 c. chicken broth (or vegetable broth)
  • 1 1/4 c. skim milk
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • nasturtium blossoms for garnish

Melt the butter in a stock pot. Add the onion and cook until soft but not browned, stirring occasionally. Add the potatoes and nasturtium leaves and continue cooking until the leaves are wilted -- about 5 minutes.

Add the chicken broth and milk to the stock pot. Add the seasonings and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer gently until the potatoes are tender -- about 15 minutes.

Remove the bay leaf and discard. Puree the soup in a blender until smooth. If you wish to serve the soup warm, pour it into serving bowls and serve immediately. Otherwise, pour the soup into a large bowl. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours. Serve garnished with fresh nasturtium blossoms -- if desired.

  • Yields: 6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 50 minutes

Portabella Burgers

These juicy burgers are best cooked on a grill. However, if you're strapped for time, you can pop the mushrooms and zucchini under the broiler for about 4 minutes on each side. The fixings I've suggested here are just that -- suggestions. Pick and choose your favorites to make these burgers your personal heaven.
  • 2 large portabella mushroom caps, cleaned
  • 1/4 c. Italian dressing (you can also use your favorite pesto for a milder flavor)
  • 1/2 medium zucchini, cut lengthwise into strips
  • 2 large slices of your favorite cheese (I love garlic cheddar!)
  • 1/2 medium tomato, sliced
  • 2 hamburger buns, lightly toasted
  • 2 tsp. honey mustard

Place the mushroom caps and dressing in a large plastic bag. Seal and shake to insure that the mushrooms are well-coated. Set aside for at least 1 hour.

Prepare grill. Place mushrooms and zucchini strips (you should have between 4-6 strips) on the grill in a single layer. Grill for about 5 minutes on each side or until the vegetables are fork tender.

Assemble burgers by layering mushrooms, cheese, zucchini and tomato slices on the toasted buns. Add a teaspoon of honey mustard on each bun and serve immediately.

  • Yields: 2 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes, plus marinating time

Garden Quesadillas

Quesadillas are the perfect party food for the host or hostess that is concerned about pleasing guests. Simply put out a large variety of fillings and let them put together what looks good to them!
  • Flour tortillas (allow for 2 tortillas per quesadilla)
  • Refried beans
  • Bell peppers, diced (use red, yellow and green for a pretty presentation)
  • Shredded cheese (try to have at least two varieties -- one mild, one sharp -- available)
  • Tomatoes, chopped
  • Onions, diced (have one sweet and one spicy available)
  • Hot peppers, diced (optional)
  • Zucchini, sliced into coins
  • Black beans, rinsed and drained
  • Sweet corn kernels, cooked and drained
  • Olive oil spray

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.

Allow your guests to assemble their own quesadillas using the fillings you make available. There are only two rules:

  1. The bottom and top layers should consist of a flour tortilla.
  2. Everyone should have fun!

To give your quesadillas a crunchy outside, spray the tops with a little olive oil before you put them in the oven. Place the prepared quesadillas in the oven for about 10 minutes or until the top is golden brown. Make sure that you encourage your guests to share their creations with each other. You'd be surprised at the new ideas that you'll get!

  • Yields: As many as you want!
  • Preparation Time: 10 minutes of cooking -- the assembly process can vary depending on the chef involved!

Fresh Pasta with Roasted Peppers

This dish takes advantage of fresh pasta and bell peppers from your farmers' market. Use several colored peppers to make a pretty dish.
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 1 yellow bell pepper
  • 1 green bell pepper
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1/4 c. lemon juice
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • Black pepper to taste
  • 1 lb. fresh linguine (try some new flavors -- garlic is great!)
  • Freshly grated parmesan or asiago cheese

Combine the olive oil, lemon juice, garlic and black pepper in a bowl. Set aside.

Blacken the whole peppers on all sides under the broiler. Remove from the oven and immediately place in a plastic bag. Seal and allow to sit for 10 minutes to steam.

While you wait for the peppers to steam, place a large saucepan with 3 quarts of salted water on the stove; bring to a boil. Add the fresh pasta and boil for 4-5 minutes or until al dente.

While the pasta boils, remove peppers from the plastic bag and slice into thin strips. Add to the bowl containing the olive oil mixture and toss to coat.

After you drain the pasta add the peppers and olive oil mixture immediately and toss well to mix. The pasta should be hot enough to heat the peppers and sauce. Serve immediately with warm bread.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes

Strawberry Chillers

This rich shake makes a perfect ending to a light summer meal. It's sweet and just a bit fizzy!
  • 2 c. chopped strawberries
  • 1 c. sugar
  • 2 c. water
  • 1/2 c. lemon juice
  • 6 c. strawberry ice cream
  • 1 2/3 c. chilled strawberry soda
  • whipped cream

In a medium saucepan, combine the strawberries, sugar and water. Mix well. Bring to a boil over medium heat, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat and boil gently, stirring often, until the strawberries are very tender -- about 3 minutes. Pour the mixture into a bowl, cover with plastic and refrigerate until cool.

In a blender, puree the strawberry mixture. Pour the puree into a bowl. Add the lemon juice and mix.

To serve, pour about 3/4 c. of the strawberry puree into a chilled glass. Spoon scoops of ice cream into each glass. Add 1/3 c. soda to each glass and mix gently. Garnish with whipped cream.

  • Yields: 5 servings
  • Preparation Time: 20 minutes, plus chilling time